Hotel Salvation

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Hotel Salvation
"Bhutiani gently probes at the relationships, letting his character-driven story develop at its own pace, without forcing either the emotion or humour."

The here and now and the hereafter stand hand in hand in Shubhashish Bhutiani's debut feature Hotel Salvation, which was made as part of Venice Film Festival's Biennale College programme, and is the latest in a string of independent productions emerging from Indian filmmakers likely to make waves internationally.

Essentially a father and son story, Bhutiani makes a virtue of his low budget by keeping his focus tight on septuagenarian Daya (Lalit Behl) and his family, creating a sense of intimacy that is far removed from the more usual bustle of Indian films.

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When one morning Daya wakes from a nightmare, he announces to his son Rajiv (Adil Hussain): "I think I am ready to die now" and outlines plans to go to Varnasi on the banks of the sacred River Ganges for his final days.

Daya seems hale and healthy but Rajiv finds himself unable to do little but comply with his father's wishes, hastily organising time off from his office job and heading for Varnasi, where the pair of them check into the Hotel Salvation - an establishment that makes the original Marigold Hotel look positively plush. The hotel is specifically geared up for those ready to meet their maker, and features a string of rules, including no meat and a strict stay limit of 15 days. "If you die, good for you. If you don't, go back home," the proprietor tells them.

As the days in the hotel tick by, comedy mixes with contemplation as Daya and Rajiv, freed from the regular distractions, find their thoughts turn to their own relationship. There is trouble brewing on the home front for Rajiv too, as his daughter Sunita (Palomi Ghosh) is feeling increasingly independent. Bhutiani gently probes at the relationships, letting his character-driven story develop at its own pace, without forcing either the emotion or humour.

With hotel residents checking out permanently on a regular basis and a scene in which Rajiv walks through piles of logs intended for funeral pyres offering a sudden poignancy, death is a constant companion. But the hotel is also shown as a place where life abounds and new friendships are forged, with Daya embarking on a charming relationship with long-standing resident Vilma (Navnindra Behl), who has been in the hotel since her husband died years previously, merely changing her name every 15 days in the registry.

Bhutiani gives us a real sense of cramped conditions and limited space, the perfect environment to find friendship or lock horns, with cinematographers David Huwiler and Michael McSweeney making great use of shadowy but often brightly decorated interiors, in contrast to the sun-drenched outdoor scenes.

The subplot on the home front feels a little under-developed, although Ghosh and Geetanjali Kulkarni, who plays her mother Lata, are so perfectly cast that they make an impact nevertheless. Bhutiani also has a good eye for family dynamics, showing how grandparents have a tendency to bond with grandchildren more easily than their own kids and finding nuance in the relationship between Lata and Rajiv that suggests a lifetime of loving and tolerating one another.

In the presence of Daya and Rajiv, your heart warms, your spirits are lifted and faith in family is restored.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2016
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Hotel Salvation packshot
When his dad decides he wants to go to a holy city to die, his son has little choice but to tag along.

Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani

Writer: Shubhashish Bhutiani, Asad Hussain

Starring: Adil Hussain, Lalit Behl, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh, Navnindra Behl, Anil K. Rastogi

Year: 2016

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: India

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